Two different shows present rare folk art traditions that are not much known outside of their States

The world of Web can only tell us as much. It holds true for a country like India which still has probably much more hidden and unknown than what has been revealed in terms of its heritage and culture. Customs, traditions and practices abound in this part of the world and though scholars, patrons, art enthusiasts are working to preserve them, we are yet to be privy to so many of them. It’s sheer coincidence that the Capital city is hosting two art exhibitions of such rare folk traditions that they are still largely unknown even in these times. While a collection of Pinguli chitragithi from Maharashtra is on display at Arts of the Earth at Lado Sarai, Arpana Caur’s Academy of Fine Arts and Literature is presenting Godana art of Bihar.

Pinguli chitragithi

While so many folk art traditions like warli, pabuji ki phad, kalighat paintings and patachitra have survived the brunt of time, this one didn’t. Extinct almost 20 years ago, the areas of Pinguli and Paithan are bereft of the storytellers who roamed around from village to village holding the scrolls that depicted tales from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Meena Varma, Director of Arts of the Earth, had visited the village 20 years ago and acquired the works, which she is exhibiting now. The tradition, she informs us, was already on its last legs.

Straight lines, not very decorative and simplistic imagery drawn from the epics, are the mainstay of this genre. A performing tradition, the hand-made paper paintings provided the visual support as the nomadic puppeteers of the Thakar Adivasi community, doubling up as musicians and singers, regaled the viewers with their show.

According to Jyotindra Jain, a renowned scholar, Pingulis are also known as Paithan paintings and the actors narrated not the standard Ramayana stories but the local Marathi Ramayana called “Pandav Pratap.” “The tradition is completely extinct and perhaps its biggest collection can be seen in the Kelkar Museum in Pune. This bunch of singers and musicians would carry these paintings like a placard — two different paintings on each side and they would just turn it with a change in the story. Pinguli puppets bear some kind of similarity to the shadow puppets of Andhra Pradesh.”

(The exhibition is on at Arts of The Earth, Lado Sarai, New Delhi, till July 16.)


When paper reached Madhubani village in Bihar, courtesy Pupul Jayakar, womenfolk of the Dusar community felt tempted to shift the unique iconography of tattoos engraved on their bodies, to it. It’s surprising that even though the developments in Madhubani and Godana were taking place simultaneously, one acquired a cult status and another remained hardly known. It was primarily done by women but when the art form reached the market like in the case of Madhubani, men also took to it. Sat Narayan Pandey was one of them. Arpana Caur met him sometime in the ’80s at a craft exposition in Delhi and that’s how began a long association between the two which was cut short by the sudden death of the folk artist. Eight years ago, Pandey fell off a bus and died. Ironically, his paintings touched an aspect that was related to living in the city.

“He was doing the typical Godana stuff but I saw a possibility of departure from the typical imagery. So I told him to do trees for me. He got back with those trees and they looked very different. From then on, he just kept on doing trees but each tree looked different from the other. They are quite imaginative. He would play with the intensity of cow dung,” explains Arpana, who is showcasing 50 of his works. A collector of tribal and folk art, Caur concenrates on one folk form every summer. This time, she got the paper painting stitched on to a cloth and mounted on a canvas. “I would tell him to do trees or depict traffic signals as trees so once he did a traffic signal and a tree shown inside the signal. The idea was about how traffic and pollution are choking the environment of the city. We worked together on many canvases and co-signed it. He once made it to the Crafts Museum’s exhibition with great difficulty and that too in the month of June when it hardly gets any visitors.”

(The exhibition is on at Academy of Fine Arts and Literature, Siri Fort Road, New Delhi, till July 30.)